At times Christians are led to believe that if we do all the right things we will please God and everything will be rosy. But, after we have walked the Christian life for any length of time, we may have also grown wiser and learned the hard way, that this life is often peppered by troubles and frequent warfare against the flesh, the devil, and this evil world. And, hopefully as we have matured in Christ we’ve come to learn that Jesus was right after all. Being identified with him is also to be identified with his suffering. He suffered and we too shall suffer.
Few young Christians rightly understand how identification with Jesus the Messiah will also mean identification with their Master’s suffering. The apostle Paul understood. Yet, despite all of the trials and tribulations in his life he continually pursued JOY. Joy was not something he sought to squander for himself. For Paul, as it was true of Jesus, joy, true God given joy was something precious that could be shared and encouraged among God’s people. The increase of God’s joy, Holy Spirit wrought joy, that is grounded in God’s truth, is a most worthy and attainable goal in this life. This message is dedicated to those of you who have learned from God that joy, true joy, is often a reward to the one who has undergone suffering and sorrow.
1. The Pursuit of Joy
Let’s again read Paul’s telling words in verse 4 (read in context).
(3) I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (4) always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, (5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
I submit to you that, “Joy”, the possession of it, or the scarcity of it, or even the total absence of it is a God given barometer of spiritual health. The word “rejoice” simply means to express “joy.” Of course you can’t rejoice unless you posses joy. Paul’s prayer us quite telling. He enjoyed joy filled prayer as he prayed for the saints of Philippi. I dare to say, prayer for one another that is filled with joy, is a scarcity among Christians. It ought not to be!
Of this letter one commentator (the Lutheran Bengel [1687 – 1752]) wrote: “The sum of this letter is, ‘I rejoice, rejoice ye.”’ The proof of his statement is found in the following verses. Joy appeared like “sprinkles” on a homemade cup cake. So let’s taste some of the “joy” sprinkled within Paul’s letter to the saints at Philippi.
Php 1:25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,
Php 2:2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Php 2:17-19 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. (18) Likewise you also should beglad and rejoice with me. (19) I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.
Php 2:28-29 I am the more eager to send him (Epaphroditus), therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. (29) So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men,
Php 3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
Php 4:1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
And next to last this often quoted verse….
Php 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
And the last…..
Php 4:10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.
Amazing! It’s evident Paul derived much joy from his relationship to the Christians of Philippi. Already, I’ve derived joy just by simply knowing that Paul derived joy from these saints. You see my brothers and sisters Joy in Christ can be very contagious.
2. Joy in Other Churches
As I looked at the evidence of joy in this letter to the saints at Philippi a curiosity sprung up in my mind as to how much joy Paul may or may not have derived from his relationship and service to other believing communities. It’s a fair question. A little investigation was in order.
On the surface his letters to the new covenant communities of Corinth and Thessalonica appear to have contributed more or less to Paul’s joy in Christ. The fact is, Corinth had supplied a good deal of sorrow for Paul as did the Galatians. There is far less evidence of Paul having derived joy from the other believing communities. That’s not to say he didn’t derive joy from any of them at one time or another. It’s just not always mentioned and given how Paul loved to trade in Joy, it is telling. (In this brief survey I’m not including Paul’s letters to Timothy, Titus or Philemon because they were addressed to individuals and not new covenant communities.)
In the following sampling of various letters and verses note how Paul either encourages joy or how he has in some sense derived joy from our brethren.
(Rom 14:17) For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (encouraged joy)
(Rom 15:13) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (encouraged joy)
(Rom 15:32) so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. (encouraged joy)
(2Co 1:24) Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (encouraged joy)
(2Co 2:3) And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. (mutual joy encouraged)
(2Co 7:4) I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. (derived joy)
(2Co 7:13) Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. (derived joy)
(2 Corinthians 8:1-2) We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, (2) for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (derived joy through the saints in Macedonia)
(Gal 5:22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (encouraged joy)
(Col 1:11) May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, (encouraged joy)
(1Th 1:6) And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, (derived joy)
(1Th 2:19) For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? (derived joy)
(1Th 2:20) For you are our glory and joy. (derived joy)
(1Th 3:9) For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, (derived joy)
We can agree that through the evidence we’ve seen so far there is at the very least a great amount of emphasis on Joy and the need for Joy in his letters.
3. Why is this a big deal?
Now let’s sit back and think on what we have considered up to this point. As you have fellowshipped among God’s saints what sort of importance have you noticed has been placed on the possession and experience of Joy?
I’m tempted to avoid my next question altogether but I cannot. It needs to be asked. Have you ever experienced the joy of being a member of a Joy filled community of God’s people?
Why was joy so important to Paul?
Why is your possession of joy so important to God?
Joy, at the very least, is not something to be easily discounted in the life and affairs of God’s saints. Again the question begs, Why should the possession of “Joy” be important to you and me? It’s because Love for God and one another and the derived Joy we have and share in Christ is sure evidence of a work of God the Spirit within this church and upon your collective hearts.
Joy is born out of our love for God and his children.
It is the good fruit of the Spirit who indwells the people of God.
Love and joy are the sure product and telling evidence of the Holy Spirit’s activity and presence in the life of a new covenant community of believers. Without evidence of the Spirit’s activity we cannot accurately determine whether a professing new covenant community is born of God or a fortress of the enemy. The absence of this love brought God’s indictment of the church at Ephesus.
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
4. Joy gives animation to our prayers for others before God.
The evidence of Joy encouraged Paul’s high opinion and rejoicing in what God wrought in and through the saints of Philippi.
Almost everything about that believing New Covenant community served to give him joy. It would appear that nothing they did brought him sorrow. Perhaps they were exceptional. Yet, even though Paul may not have derived joy from those for whom he labored and suffered it did not deter him from working for their joy in Christ. He did not give up on any except those who turned him away.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
..so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.
2 Corinthians 1:24
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
5. The absence of joy should be very worrisome to God’s shepherds.
Consider the following passages from 2 Corinthians followed by another from Galatians;
2 Corinthians 2:1-4 For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained?And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
Here’s another example from Paul’s letter to the Galatians;
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– (7) not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (8) But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (9) As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
A primary reason church leaders and the people of God suffer discouragement and sorrow in their service to one another and God is simply this: the people whom they love and care for in Christ have neglected their care and love for each another. God’s love is his warmth. It is God’s love, a love grounded in revealed truth and animated by the Spirit of God that (we) must express to one another. The absence of God’s love brings a cold chill and if left unchecked it eventually becomes a deep freeze.
6. The absence of joy brings sorrow. It is destructive.
It is equally true when our leaders do not model the love and joy of Christ as did Paul they neglect those saints whom God has placed in their care. Believing communities suffer when they are neglected by their leaders.
Pastors neglect God’s saints when they fail to work for the Joy of God’s children.
What is the evidence of such neglect?
- If in our lives we project ourselves before others as bitter, complaining, quarrelsome, divisive, a joyless despicable people, condemned and continually burdened by our sin and guilt we are to be pitied.
- If we communicate to God’s children that their sin will always be their master then we are encouraging the language and expectations of a defeated joyless people.
- If we preach and teach to God’s redeemed community (His lambs) in the same manner we communicate God’s word to those who remain fast bound in their sins then shame on us. We are guilty of their continued misery.
Jesus’ little lambs are not Satan’s goats.
If we are image bearers of Christ we must not project the image of those who are still living under the weight of their sin and guilt. Who in their right mind would want to know the God of such a person who would claim Jesus Christ to be their Savior when by all appearances they still look like they need saving. You must be born again!”
If you say you are born again then why do you look
so dead in sin and burdened by constant guilt?
Unlike many of us who preach and teach, Paul did not give up on furthering the joy of those for whom Christ died. Some, like the Galatians, appeared to have abandoned the New Covenant of Christ and returned to the Law covenant. Misery is the end result of abandoning the grace of God.
Paul never gave up on God’s saints. He continued to work relentlessly for their joy even though it is evident he derived joy only from some believing communities while from others like Corinth he derived much heartache and sorrow.
Paul was under orders, orders given by the Great Commander in Chief, “Feed my Sheep!”
Feed on Christ! How can you go wrong? Jesus Christ did not work for your continued misery.
7. Work for one another’s joy in Christ.
Return to Philippians 1. Up to this point we have prepared the stage so that we may now move forward to our expressed goal of increasing our shared joy in our Lord.
Let us now examine some cause and effect.
In verse 3 and 4 Paul writes:
(3) I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (4) always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,
Why was his prayer seasoned with joy for these saints? The evidence is in verses 5 through 11.
(5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (6) And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (7) It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
Two telling keywords are “partnership” & “partakers”.
Paul’s joy filled response is evident in his testimony of their mutual – and growing love, in and through, Jesus Christ.
Picking up at verse 8….
(8) For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (9) And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, (10) so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, (11) filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
The key phrase: “I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus”
He’s not content that they already know and experience the love God as community, he wants their love to continue growing and maturing in Christ as it is combined with knowledge and discernment. In other words, sincere and pure love that’s grounded in God’s revealed truth. Now that’s a formula for Spirit filled dynamite!
Within the New Covenant believing community you have saints whom the Holy Spirit has appointed to serve as community leaders (officially or not).
I would hope they serve because they love you and have your best interest in Christ at heart. I also hope and pray that there’s a collective desire to see your joy multiplied in Christ. I would hope and pray that’s why your leaders answered the call of the Spirit of God to serve you as they serve Christ.
Encourage those whom God has called to serve you!
I want all of you, each and every one of you, to consider how you can increase one another’s joy? You can do this by shepherding one another in the love of Christ. I would also hope this is why you joined yourself to the New Covenant community in the first place.
Get back to square one.
I’ll tell you where to start. It’s quite simple. Stop pointing your accusing finger at others. Get rid of the measuring sticks of law and imperatives (wrongly used) and your home brewed legalism that you measure yourself and others by. This takes repenting. Stop sinning in your relationships with one another. It is Christ Jesus we want to see in each other. We are all saved by His grace. Be controlled by His Holy Spirit! Can we do that? With God’s help we will! Begin with your own self. Immerse yourself in the Gospels and learn of Christ. Look to the Spirit of God for your help in applying what you have learned of Christ to yourself and others.
After you have repented and recovered,
work for the Joy of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Don’t forget to do this. Look in the mirror. Point your finger at your reflection and say “I repent of you!” I’m tired of looking at that all too familiar miserable face. “I want to see Jesus!”, “I want to look like Jesus.” First and foremost I want to bring Joy to my Jesus! I want to be His delight. After you have repented and recovered, work for the Joy of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Actively affirm each other, even the unlovely like yourself, by partnering with them in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It will work towards increasing your mutual joy in Christ. Their joy will rebound to you for your good and the good of this assembly just as it did for Paul.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (4) always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, (5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
How can you bring joy to your wife, husband, family members, fellow Christians and church leaders? Stop sinning. Be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Affirm your fellow saints by partnering with them in their service to your God and Savior. It’s that simple. With God’s help you can do it!
And never forget who you were apart from Christ.
Never forget what your God still puts up with, yes, with you. True enough, but never forget that he delights in and sings over you, each and every one of you in Christ.
9. One last thing to encourage your joy in Christ.
Turn with me to Zephania 3:17 where it reads;
The LORD your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.” (NIV)
Do you hear that? God rejoices over you, he has joy in abundance that can never be measured! OVER YOU!
On this passage, John Piper has said;
God does not do you good out of some constraint or coercion. He is free! And in his freedom he overflows in joy to do you good. He exults over you with loud singing.
Can you imagine what it would be like if you could hear God singing? Remember that it was merely a spoken word that brought the universe into existence. What would happen if God lifted up his voice and not only spoke but sang! Perhaps a new heaven and a new earth would be created. God says something almost just to that effect in Isaiah 65:17-18,
Behold, I create a new heavens and a new earth …
I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
When God spoke at the beginning, the heavens and the earth were created; perhaps at the end, the new heavens and the new earth will be created when God exults over his people with loud singing.
When I think of the voice of God singing, I hear the booming of Niagara Falls mingled with the trickle of a mossy mountain stream. I hear the blast of Mt. St. Helens mingled with a kitten’s purr. I hear the power of an East Coast hurricane and the barely audible puff of a night snow in the woods. And I hear the unimaginable roar of the sun 865,000 miles thick, one million three hundred thousand times bigger than the earth, and nothing but fire, 1,000,000 degrees centigrade, on the cooler surface of the corona. But I hear this unimaginable roar mingled with the tender, warm crackling of the living room logs on a cozy winter’s night.
And when I hear this singing I stand dumbfounded, staggered, speechless that he is singing over me. He is rejoicing over my good with all his heart and with all his soul (cf. Jeremiah 32:41)!
Of this same passage, C.H. Spurgeon said:
“I can understand a minister rejoicing over a soul that he has brought to Christ; I can also understand believers rejoicing to see others saved from sin and hell; but what shall I say of the infinitely happy and eternally-blessed God finding, as it were, a new joy in souls redeemed? This is another of those great wonders that cluster around the work of divine grace! … The Lord takes pleasure in them that fear him, imperfect though they be. He sees them as they are to be, and so he rejoices over them, even when they cannot rejoice in themselves. When your face is blurred with tears, your eyes red with weeping, and your heart heavy with sorrow for sin, the great Father is rejoicing over you. The prodigal son wept in his Father’s bosom, but the Father rejoiced over his son. We are questioning, doubting, sorrowing, trembling; and all the while he who sees the end from the beginning knows what will come out of the present disquietude, and therefore rejoices. Let us rise in faith to share the joy of God.” (sermons from 1837, #1990)
My brothers and sisters, Next time you are miserable while swimming in your sin and guilt, think on this for even just a moment, Your God, our God, the God of the blood soaked Cross, singing over YOU.
Php 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice
But don’t stop there. Work to increase joy among your brothers and sisters.
JOY is contagious!
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.